It was Halloween about 25 years ago. I was dressed up as a fisherman. I had on my dad’s vest. I had my dad’s fisherman’s hat. I had my bright green, Oscar the Grouch fishing pole with a bright red and yellow bobber. I was carrying a mini-bucket in order to collect my candy.
It was going as expected. I went up to a house. I knocked on the door. I said, “Trick or treat.” I got a Tootsie Roll and moved on.
But then, we approached a house that was different. The candy was located outside. It was being held by a giant mannequin in a grey snowsuit with a hockey mask on. There was a sign attached to his suit that said, “Have one.”
I thought – “This is unexpected. It’s a little different. But it’s easier. I’ll be saving myself about 15 steps all the way to the front of the door and the awkward fifteen seconds waiting to see if anyone came. If more people did this, I could get more bang for my buck, save time and get more candy.” This is a nice surprise!
Then, I walked up to the mannequin. I reached out my hand. I grabbed a Butterfinger. And…
The mannequin reached out and grabbed my hand. I turned tailed, dropped the Butterfinger and ran as fast as my little Cabella boots could take me.
That was a scary surprise.
Today we are starting our sermon series it’s all about surprises. It’s called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to examine God’s grace through the lens of God’s Word and learn some surprising truths about His Grace. Some terrifying. Some wonderful. Before we take a look at some of the first surprises in God’s Word. Let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Scary Price
Today we want to start our series by talking cost. (I know that sounds like a political ad), but I think it’s real important to talk cost when you’re talking about buying anything.
If you’re buying a home, you want to talk cost. Sure, you look at the floorplan, the rooms, the updated hardwood, the open concept living room, the backyard, and the location. But you’ve also got to talk cost. What’s the down payment? What’s the homeowner’s insurance? What’s the tax value? How much will renovations cost? Can you get the NC State Wolfpack washer and dryer set for free or not?
It’s the same with God’s grace. It’s filled with value. In God’s grace, we get forgiveness of sins, peace with God, the promise of heaven, a joy filled heart, the assurance that we are God’s children and a beautiful connection with people of all races, ages, and social status.
Those are some pretty awesome things. Those pretty, divinely, awesome things.
As your grandpa would say, “Sounds expensive.”
But God doesn’t deal in dollars and cents. That’s physical.
He deals in righteousness and perfection. That’s divine. In fact, God puts this rather simple yet expensive cost on His eternal and divine gifts – his Grace. The price tag is found in Leviticus 4:2:
Be holy as I the Lord you God am holy.
Holy seems like a key word then. Holy is what you’re going to need to get to heaven. Holy is what your gonna need to have peace with God.
What’s holy mean then?
Does that mean you go to church a lot?
Does it mean that you wear nice clothes to church?
Does it mean that you have a nice, holy, smile on all the time?
Nope. Holy means “without sin.” It means “without defects.” It means “without sin.”
Jesus helps us out with this when he quotes this passage and uses a Greek word that means “perfect” to translate “holy.” He says, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
So are you perfect? You’re going to need to be perfect to get to heaven.
Understand this. You can’t trick God. You can’t convince him that you're trying hard and doing your best and your good intentions are perfection. God knows a bogus holy payment when he sees it. That’d be like trying to take some Monopoly money to buy a house. It won’t work.
Let’s be real: What do you have lying around? What is in your spiritual piggy bank? I imagine it’s a lot like mine. I don’t have any perfection. I have imperfection.
I have a thing called Sin.
The Bible says this, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
The word for sin there is interesting. The Bible was written in Greek and the Greek word translated sin here is one of the most popular words for sin in the New Testament. It’s hamartia. Hamartia means to miss the mark or to be off target.
It’s like darts. Ever played darts? Your goal is to aim your dart and try to throw it onto the bullseye…or at least somewhere on the board. If you miss, you don’t score any points. If you miss the board entirely, you are a laughingstock to your friends.
That’s sin. God has given us a benchmark for our lives. He says, “Don’t lust. Don’t hate. Don’t be a jerk. Be king. Be loving. Help others.”
When we don’t do that, when we sin…it’s like we’re taking a dart, aiming carefully, and hitting the drywall about 3 feet to the left of the dartboard.
Now a bargaining man might ask – What’s my sin worth? I might not be able to get all of it, but how much of God’s grace can I get by offering him my sin?
Ever heard of Kelley’s Blue Book? It’s a place online where you type in your car make, model, and year. You let them know what condition it’s in. You tell them if has a Smartphone port, a CD play or a (gasp) tape deck. You let them know if you have made any upgrade and whether or not those stains from that time your kid spilled red Kool Aid on the back seat are permanent. You enter in all that information and the website provides you with the appropriate value of your car.
Sin doesn’t work like that. You can’t type in the amount of sin, type of sin, year of sin and expect a price that it’s worth to come back to you.
Kelley’s Blue book for sin is called the Bible.
And the Bible places the same value on sin regardless of size, shape, and variety.
Romans 6:23: The wages of sin is death.
Let’s break that passages apart. First, zero in on the word wages. That means the payment. It’s a word that’s used to described what you get paid for raking the leaves – what you get paid for crafting a cabinet – what you get paid for working 40 hours a week at your job. A wage is what you get paid for what you do. It’s what you earn.
What is sin worth? What do we get paid?
Pay careful attention to that. Because the wages of sin is NOT a $20 offering. The wages of sin is NOT saying the Lord’s Prayer 10 times. The wages of sin is not 15 good deeds. It’s not 10 hail Mary’s. It’s not trying, really, really, really, hard for the next couple of weeks.
The wages of sin is death.
And it doesn’t matter what kind of sin it is.
Stealing a pencil from work? Death.
Calling your husband a loser? Death.
Not holding the door for the guy behind you because you don’t feel like it? Death.
Taking a second glance at the secretary who is not your wife, but is looking real good today? Death.
Checking your phone at church to see if your Fantasy team is set for today, because that’s more exciting to you than singing God’s praises? Death.
It’s all the same and it’s all worth the same. Death.
And notice this – Each sin is worth one death. One sin costs one death. Two sins cost two deaths. Seventeen sins costs seventeen deaths. One hundred-forty seven sins costs one hundred forty seven deaths. If you’re like me (and you are) then you have so many sins that you can’t even count.
An infinite amount.
An eternal amount.
Payable with eternal death.
Can you imagine your bill? Can you imagine how impossible this is? Because sin is all we’ve got. A piggy bank filled with sin. A bank account bulging with imperfect. A fully funded H.S.A. of death. This means that the surprising and terrifying truth about God’s grace is this:
You can’t pay for God’s grace.
You haven’t in the past. You can’t right now. You will never be able to in the future.
You can’t pay for God’s grace.
II. An Incredible Gift
That’s a keyword in Romans 6:23. “But.” It means there is more to come. It means the thought is going to change. It means there is a solution. It means there is someone who can help us. It means keep reading…
The wages of sin is death, BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Do you know what a Shopkin is? It’s these little plastic appliance action figures that kids love.
But here’s the deal – They cost a bit of money. And if, like any good Shopkins collector, your kid wants them all – they are going to have to turn to you for help. Mommy, can you buy this? Daddy, I don’t have the money?
Of course, the same thing is true when you’re an adult. You ask someone with the money to help you pay for something you don’t have the payment for.
Mom, help me with this car payment?
Dad, can you give me money for the new TV?
Credit card company, can you help me get these things that I don’t need?
It’s the same thing with all of God’s heavenly blessings.
We can’t pay for it for us.
We need someone to pay hundreds of thousands of deaths for us.
Someone who doesn’t have his own sins to pay for.
Someone who has an infinite life funding his death.
Someone like Jesus.
The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
That’s why he died! Jesus didn’t die because he owed God a death for his own sins. The Bible calls him perfect. The Bible calls him without sin.
Jesus didn’t die for his sins, but for your sins. Jesus died because you owed God a death for your sins.
That’s why he went through a horrific and terrifying, Halloween-esque death on the cross. It’s why he bled and hung with nails in his hands and through his feet. It’s why a crown of thorns was pressed into his skull. It’s why his lungs slowly stopped breathing.
Jesus was paying for sin. He was earning God’s grace. Jesus was buying your way to heaven. And his death was more than your average human death. It isn’t like he just died for one of your sins. He was the Son of God. He was the Divine Lord of heaven and earth himself. His death is worth a lot more than a normal human death. He’s got God blood. It paid for your first sin, your last sin, and the hundreds of thousands of sins in between. His death paid for your sin and your sin and your sin and your sin and your sin.
Want proof? Jesus came back to life! If he hadn’t paid for your sins, then, he would still be dead – still dying – still paying….like a Credit Card debt with interest that just keeps multiplying, he would have stayed dead.
But he didn’t stay dead. Three days later, he rose. That cross is empty!
This means that Jesus did paid for your sins.
He paid for all your sins.
He paid for every, last one of your sins.
Jesus paid the steep price for God’s grace.
Our first truth was terrifying. You cannot pay for God’s grace. But here’s something amazing. God’s grace is already paid for which means -
God’s grace is free. That’s what our passages says, “The gift of God is eternal life.” If it’s a gift, that means it doesn’t cost anything.
Think about your grandma. Maybe she has made you a nice sweater before or crocheted you a blanket or a pair of socks. If you open up your gift and look at the socks, and say “Thank You” and her response is, “That’ll be $42.50.” IT’S NOT A GIFT! It’s a wage.
God doesn’t do that. God paid for it all. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
The gift of God.
That’s exactly what God gives you in Jesus.
He gives you forgiveness.
He gives you peace.
He gives you heaven.
III. What Now?
1) Stop Trying to Pay for the Gift!
Because it’s really quite rude. God bought you the gift. God paid for it all. God brings it to you in His Word.
And we say, “Nah, God. I think I’d rather try to pay for it by myself. I don’t trust your money. I don’t trust it’ll be enough.”
We’re the ones who don’t have enough. God is the only one who does. Stop trying to pay for God’s grace and simply rejoice in it!
There’s a change in the way you live your life. The burden is gone. There is no eternal debt over your head. You don’t have to sit there each day thinking, “I gotta be good. I gotta be good. I gotta be good. I gotta be…ahhh! I missed a chance to be good because I was too busy trying to remember to be good! That’s selfish. It’s another sin. Now I’ve got even more good to be doing!”
That’s foolish. It’s impossible.
It’d be like throwing away an all-expense paid gift card to Applebee’s. Racking up a $780-dollar bill on ½ price apps. But then, doubting that the gift card will work. Throwing it into the garbage and trying to pay with what’s in your wallet.
If you do that, you’re in trouble.
And if don’t trust Jesus, you will be in trouble.
2) Have Faith in Jesus.
But God is God.
God doesn’t lie.
He doesn’t change his mind on payment.
He doesn’t offer incomplete gifts.
He says, For God so loved the world that he gave His One and Only Son – that’s Jesus – that whoever believes in Him – and what he did! That he lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly to pay every last bit of God’s grace for you – shall not perish, but have eternal life.
If you trust him, God’s grace is yours. As expensive as it is, as impossible as it is for you to earn – it is yours.
That’s life changing.
A while back I met a woman at the hospital. Maria. I stumbled into her on an elevator and we exchanged pleasantries.
How are you?
I’m fine; how are you?
How was the person that you came to see?
What treatment did the doctor’s recommend?
And so on…
I said to her before I left, “May God bless you and your family with healing.” I meant it to be nice – but she began to frown.
“God couldn’t be nice to me. I don’t deserve it.”
I stopped her. I asked her to explain. We sat down and I listened.
About how God couldn’t love her.
About how God had seen her do awful sins.
About how God had seen her do drugs and sleep around and cheat on her husband and even…try to take her own life.
She knew it was wrong. Oh, she knew it was wrong. She understood sin.
Because of it, she couldn’t ever earn God’s blessing.
She couldn’t earn his grace.
And I looked into her eyes. I looked past the tears. I smiled and said,
“You’re right. You can’t….But Jesus can.”
The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Amen.